Accidental Authors, Random Readers, and the Art of Popular Romance

Publication year
Para.doxa: Studies in World Literary Genres

Young explores the history of the development of

assumptions [that] set up a binary opposition between literary authors and popular writers. Where one creates, the other works by rote. Where one succeeds through hard labor and inspiration, the other succeeds (if at all) through serendipity. Where one makes intentional decisions, the other is driven by outside forces. One reaches the heights of human achievement, while the other can be replaced by a machine. (32)


Corollary to the belief that romance writers are "accidental authors," therefore, is the belief that romance readers aren't fully in control of their mental faculties. (Both the aesthete/mob and ascetic/glutton oppositions equate lower status with a loss of control.) Either these readers are mere pawns in a power play by the publishers, or they are simply indiscriminate readers, randomly picking up easy-to-read books, rather than discerning readers selecting books according to specific criteria. (37)


It may be true that adopting a formula makes it easier for authors like Krentz to write quickly, because the skeleton of the book is already determined. Still, the presence of formula is not necessarily an indicator of quality. Formalistic qualities (prose style, characterization, plotting) can vary widely from book to book. Furthermore, what constitutes a "formula" is a subjective determination. (42)